The self-described “last great soul man” is no more – Bobby Womack has died at the age of 70 having suffered from diabetes, colon cancer and the early stages of alzheimer’s in recent years.
From his early days in the church, to leading the gospel group The Valentinos, to being Sam Cooke’s guitarist, to writing number ones like The Rolling Stones’ It’s All Over Now, to monumental solo successes Across 110th Street and If You Think You’re Lonely Now, Womack will be remembered as one of the giants of R&B. More than that, he was there before R&B even had a name and before soul was an acknowledged genre of music. Here are my top five Bobby Womack songs:
5: It’s All Over Now, 1964 (Rolling Stones) – A minor hit co-written by Womack for his group The Valentinos, The Rolling Stones heard this song on their first tour of the States in 1964 when a New York DJ played it to them during an interview. The Stones subsequent cover made the US top 30 but rose all the way to UK #1.
4: If You Think You’re Lonely Now, 1982 – From Womack’s landmark comeback album The Poet, this top 3 R&B hit found its greatest pop success when sampled (and name-checked) by Mariah Carey for her 14-week 2005 US#1 We Belong Together. Carey’s song is one of the 10 biggest hits in the history of the Billboard chart. With shades of the Commodores’ Lionel Richie-led gospel-raps Sweet Love and Just To Be Close To You, this just might be the best song Richie never wrote.
3: Breezin’, 1976 (George Benson) – One of the most famous jazz or R&B instrumentals ever, many Benson fans are unaware this equally guitar and flute-tastic track was written by Womack.
2: I’m In Love, 1974 (Aretha Franklin) – One of the trickier chapters in the complex story of Bobby Womack involves his marriage to his mentor Sam Cooke’s wife Barbara just three months after Cooke was shot dead. This song was a response to the criticism he faced and while Wilson Pickett did a fine job in 1967, Aretha Franklin’s Arif Mardin-arranged 1974 interpretation is sublime, aching soul of the highest order.
1: Across 110th Street, 1973 – Arguably, though I’d say it would be an easy argument to win, this is Womack’s greatest song and up there with the best socially conscious songs of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and Curtis Mayfield. 110th Street inexplicably missed the US top 40 and only scraped the R&B top 20, but its use in several films (including the film that took its name as well as Jackie Brown, American Gangster etc) has enhanced and entrenched its legacy. Even more than Superfly, nothing says blaxploitation like this.